Training for Kingdom Living: The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value

Sermon by David Strain on April 14, 2014

Matthew 13:44-46

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Now let me invite you please to take your copies of God’s Word in your hands and turn with me to the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 13.  Matthew 13.  We are looking at verses 44 through 46 today and you’ll find that on page 819 if you’re using one of the church Bibles.  Before we read God’s Word together would you turn with me to Him as we pray?  Let us all pray.


Our Father, we believe and confess that Jesus Christ is treasure, that He is the pearl of great price, of more value than all the treasures of the world.  As we come to Your Word, however, we confess how prone we are to run after the counterfeit trinkets that the world offers us instead of Him. So please have mercy on us and display the glories and grace of Christ before our gaze, such that the luster and sparkle of every counterfeit might dim and we might find our eyes riveted on the loveliness of Jesus alone and made to prize Him such that we gladly let goods and kindred go, even this mortal life also, that we may have Him.  Wield Your Word to that effect in our hearts today.  We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.


Matthew 13 at verse 44.  This is the Word of Almighty God:


“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.  Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.


Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”


Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.


A Glorious Gospel and our Great Barriers


In Matthew 13 as we saw in our very first study in this chapter full of parables in verses 51 and 52 in Matthew 13, Jesus has His disciples in basic training.  He is seeking to train them for life in the kingdom that His coming inaugurates in the world.  Becoming a member of His kingdom, well trained for service He says, is like being a householder able to bring out of his treasure things new and things old, that is to say, being ready and equipped to share the glorious good news about Jesus with the world around us.  But the truth is, much as we wish to share the good news about Jesus with the world around us if we’re believers there are barriers and hindrances that hold us back from doing so with the joy that ought to characterize us.  There is fear, right?  We want people to like us.  We don’t want to lose friendships as we open our mouths to speak for our Savior.  There is pride.  We don’t like feeling vulnerable and we are rarely ever so vulnerable as when we pluck up the courage to talk to someone whom we have known well to say, “You need Christ.”  Sometimes there’s prejudice.  There are some people we simply don’t like and we don’t want to love them like that and we have hurdles in our own heart to overcome.  And we can add to that list many, many more barriers and hindrances to sharing the treasure that is Jesus Christ with the world.  But in verses 44 to 46 I think Jesus puts His finger on perhaps the great barrier and hindrance behind all others in our hearts if we are disciples of His, and that is that we value other things more highly than we value Him.  In these two short parables Jesus is exposing to our view the true worth of the kingdom of heaven, which, if we can grasp it, will change us, change what we value, and change what we live for. 


Parables: A Time of Teaching for Kingdom Disciples

So let’s take a look at the passage together.  In verse 36 we learn that the crowds who had been attending Jesus’ ministry, His public ministry, have been left behind.  He’s now gone indoors with His disciples to teach them privately.  And so in 36 to 43 He explains to them the parable of the weeds and then there are, what, three or four more parables that He has for them privately.  He has taught the crowds and the disciples together a great deal but here now are a sequence of teachings that He reserves for them alone.  I think at least we can say these are particularly important for the disciples and for the life of discipleship.  He wants to be sure the disciples grasp this and these truths.  The two parables we are considering today in 44 through 46 are not especially complex, neither is their message particularly mysterious, and yet I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that the truths they contain stand at the heart of what to animate and energize our Christian lives so that these two smallest parables in the series in Matthew 13 are arguably the two most significant in shaping a Christian life that is trained well for kingdom living.  Let’s consider the two parables together for a few moments. They are, I’m sure, very familiar to many of us. 


The first in verse 44 is the parable of the man who finds treasure hidden in a field.  He immediately, surreptitiously buries the treasure once he has found it once again, sells everything he has to raise the asking price for the property, and purchases the field, all so that he might gain the treasure.  The second parable, 45 to 46, is very similar.  This time it is a merchant who is searching for fine pearls; presumably this is how he makes his living in the world – he trades fine pearls.  And one day he finds a uniquely precious pearl that he simply must have and he liquidates all his assets in order to obtain this one great prize.  I want you to notice three things with me in these two parables.  First, the varied beneficiaries of the kingdom; the varied beneficiaries of the kingdom.  Then secondly, the incomparable value of the kingdom and finally, the expulsive power of the kingdom.  The varied beneficiaries, the incomparable value, and the expulsive power of the kingdom.


I. The Varied Beneficiaries of the Kingdom


Let’s think about the varied beneficiaries of the kingdom first of all.  In the first parable Jesus tells us about a man who finds treasure in a field.  It still happens actually, sometimes.  I was reading about a tenant farmer in Hoxne in Suffolk in England, a man called Peter Wattling. He lost his hammer in the field.  He hires his friend, Eric Laws, with a metal detector to go looking.  Instead of finding a hammer they discover the largest horde of fifth century Roman artifacts in the world, worth about five million dollars.  The only treasure my family has ever found using a metal detector was a quarter that my youngest son swallowed and we tracked its way on its progress through his abdomen!  My point is, treasure in a field is something of a fantasy, isn’t it?  “X marks the spot” to our minds – finding buried treasure.  But in Jesus’ day, think about where He lives.  Palestine was a war-torn region and so His scenario in verse 44 is much less exotic or would have been to His original hearers.  That people hid their valuables in their field for security if the owner died before he could recover it he may well have taken his secret with him to the grave. 


In this case, the thing to notice is that the man who found the treasure is not the owner of the field.  All the other details of the parable actually are shaped by this one prevailing fact.  The man, probably a hired farmhand working the land on behalf of the landowner, does not possess the field in which the treasure is found.  According to rabbinic law, if a man lifts the treasure from its hiding place he was now legally bound to hand the treasure over to the one who owns the land.  But if he can purchase the field then the land and everything in it, including the treasure, would legally belong to him.  In other words, this man’s entire situation and the whole of the parable depends upon his economic standing, his status. He is not a wealthy landowner; he is hired help.  On the other hand, in the second parable in verse 45, the central character is not a poor hired laborer but a wealthy merchant.  He makes his living in what was then the lucrative trade in fine pearls.  They were in great demand in Jesus’ day.  You could get a poorer quality pearl from the Red Sea. The best came from the Persian Gulf or even as far away as India and Sri Lanka, which means that a merchant who deals in fine pearls would have to travel widely, extensively, to track down the best products.  In this case, after searching who knows how long and traveling who knows how far, the merchant has at last found a pearl worth more than anything else.  This man, he’s set in striking contrast, isn’t he, with the man who finds the buried treasure.  This one is wealthy rich.  He travels internationally in pursuit of his business interests; the other is a poor hired laborer, eking out his crust, working with his hands. 


Both, however, are beneficiaries of the kingdom.  Both find treasure.  Or notice another contrast between these two men.  The first man is simply busy about his tasks when, all by accident as it were, he discovers the treasure hidden in the field.  He has no metal detector; he’s not out looking for treasure.  He’s not thinking about treasure.  He expects no changes in his circumstances at all.  He’s plowing the field when his plow hits something that doesn’t sound like a rock and his world is turned upside-down in an instant, all of a sudden to his utter surprise.  On the other hand, the second man, he knows treasure.  He’s been seeking it with diligence and vigor.  This is what he does for a living; this is his life.  Pearls are his great business and he’s dedicated himself to finding them.  And he’s seen plenty of them over the years when suddenly all his searching comes to an end.  He doesn’t need to search anymore; he finds one pearl he can retire on, a pearl worth more than everything else he has or has ever possessed. 


The Nature of the Kingdom and Those Who Belong to It

These are the beneficiaries of the kingdom – diverse, different, unalike.  These are the people of God.  These are disciples.  Some are rich and some are poor.  Some go looking for answers and perhaps search for a long time when, at last by God’s grace, they find the pearl of great price, the Lord Jesus, to the salvation of their souls.  And others are oblivious to the true poverty of their lives until the treasure lands in their lap, all unlooked for, and God takes hold of them and makes them His own.  I think there’s an important lesson for us there about the nature of the kingdom and those who belong within it.  We don’t all look alike and our stories don’t all sound alike and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Covenant children raised in the church never knowing a day away from the embrace of their Savior and those who are converted by God’s grace from no background at all.  Black and white, rich and poor, Ivy League scholars and high school dropouts, high profile citizens and nobodies from nowhere are the types who belong in the kingdom through faith in Jesus.  There are no types who, if they trust in Jesus, do not belong in His kingdom, which means of course, it means of course that you have a place here.  You have a place here if you believe in Jesus.  There are no outsiders and there are no insiders in the kingdom of heaven.  “There is neither Jew or Greek, slave nor free; there is no male or female.  You are all one in Christ Jesus” – Galatians 3 and verse 28.  So if today you trust in Christ you have a home here among the people of God, regardless of where you went to school or didn’t go to school, or how much you make or how long you’ve been on welfare, you have a home here regardless of how you speak or the color of your skin.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ your face fits in the gallery of beneficiaries of the kingdom of heaven and this is your place.  The varied beneficiaries of the kingdom.


II. The Incomparable Value of the Kingdom


And then notice secondly the incomparable value of the kingdom.  Notice what the two men, with very different means available to them, do.  They sell all they have to buy the field and buy the pearl. You see what they’ve done, right?  They’ve done a careful cost-benefits analysis, they’ve placed the total worth of everything in their lives on one side of the scales and the total value of the treasure, of the pearl, on the other, only to find the benefits of possessing the treasure, the total worth of the pearl, far, far outweighs everything they have or could ever gain and far outweighs the costs of obtaining the treasure.  Jesus Christ, having Him, knowing Him, enjoying the forgiveness that He can provide, having our consciences made clean through His blood, being adopted into His family, made heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another, being guided in all our confusions, comforted in all our sorrows, rebuked in all our wanderings, preserved through all our dangers, and brought safely home at last, all of that makes Jesus Christ infinitely precious so that all who have Him can say about the Scriptures through which our Jesus speaks to us, “They are more precious to us than gold,” Psalm 19 and verse 10.  And we can say to Him, “Whom have I in heaven but You?  There is nothing on earth that I desire beside You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but You Lord Jesus, You are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  You’re my treasure.  You are the pearl of great price, more valuable to me than anything else.”


The Brilliance of Christ and the Utter Poverty of the World

Let me commend Jesus to you.  Especially today if you’re not a believer in Him, besides Jesus all the dazzling bobbles our world runs after seem dull.  The luster is gone from the gold of this world’s treasure.  Its brilliance tarnished, its value debased beside the unending worth of Jesus Christ.  His value never depreciates but we will spend eternity, brothers and sisters, we will spend eternity discovering the true dimensions of His infinite worth to the unending satisfaction of our hearts.  To live without Jesus is to walk through the world in black and white.  To live without Jesus is to live in utter poverty, needlessly, because there’s treasure for you in Jesus Christ. 


III. The Expulsive Power of the Kingdom


The varied beneficiaries of the kingdom, the incomparable worth of the kingdom, then notice finally the expulsive power of the kingdom.  That language of course, as some of you may know, comes from a great sermon that was preached by Thomas Chalmers, a hero of mine, one of the founders of the Free Church of Scotland.  The sermon was entitled, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.”  “The Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Chalmers said, “is expulsive in its power.  It expels lesser treasures.  It awakens a new appetite, a new affection, a new sense, a new taste, a new longing in the heart that nothing but Jesus can fill.  And that longing and that delight in Christ expels every rival.”  And that is what Jesus says happens in the heart of the man who found the treasure.  In his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys the field.  The treasure has captured his heart and nothing else comes close to mattering to him in comparison to it.  He has relinquished all with joy.  It’s not a grudging thing to him when he lets goods and kindred go.  He delights to have the treasure; the treasure possess him before he possess the treasure.  There is a new affection that rules his heart and expels everything else that once seemed dear and precious and valuable around which his life used to pivot.  Now it is empty.  He, with Paul, now “counts all things rubbish that he may have Christ and be found in Him, having a righteousness, not the righteousness that is from the Law but that righteousness that is through faith in Jesus Christ.”  Jesus now becomes to him the sun in the solar system of his life and everything else pivots and turns around Him.  He is all in this man’s heart.


Christ our Great Satisfaction

Now do you see the challenge of that?  To obtain the field he must sell all he has.  To buy the pearl the merchant must relinquish his other treasures.  You can’t have both!  You can’t have both.  To take hold of the infinitely valuable grace of God in Jesus Christ you must relinquish your hold on the rotten rags of life on your own terms.  You can’t have both.  To put your hand in the Savior’s hand you must let go of the counterfeit treasures to which you have been clinging.  That is really what the Bible means, you know, when it talks about repentance.  It means letting go of all that is not Christ as the center and foundation and source of satisfaction in your life and running and clinging to and resting instead upon the Lord Jesus as your only everlasting treasure.  Some of us know C.S. Lewis’ famous quote very well, don’t we, and it is a real description of our lives.  “We are still making mud pies in a slum because we don’t believe in an offer of a holiday at the beach.  Our problem is not that we love pleasure too much.  Our problem is that we are too easily pleased.”  We settled for the cheap, plastic, imitation satisfactions, the broken toys of a world living in rebellion against God when infinitely satisfying treasure if offered to us in Christ.  Where’s the logic in that?  We settle for cheap imitations.  Come and trust in Jesus!  “Come everyone who thirsts; come to the waters.  Come, you who have no money.  Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money on what is not bread and your labors on what doesn’t satisfy?  Come, come to Me.  Come trust in Me.  I’m treasure!  I’m treasure!  And I can satisfy your heart like no one else,” Jesus says.


A Life that displays the Value of Christ

You know we think we can always tell a wealthy person, a materially wealthy person.  You know they often display their wealth in the things that they wear and the car that they drive and the home that they live.  Their lives are filled with the adornments of their riches.  Well let me ask you Christians as we close and as we come now to the Lord’s Table, “If Jesus Christ is your treasure, does it show in your life in the way that you are centered on Him?  Does your life display the value of Christ to your heart?  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Is Christ your treasure?”  As we turn now to the table of the Lord, here we see that treasure sparkling, don’t we?  Here are the emblems of the Gospel – our Savior giving Himself for us.  Here’s the value and the glory and the beauty of that treasure displayed before our eyes.  So as we come to the table, brothers and sisters let us come turning from the empty trinkets that we have been pursuing.  Let us come turning to Christ to make Him our only and sole treasure.  Tear the idols from our hearts and there set apart Christ as Lord.  Let us pray together.


Our Father, we praise You that Jesus is infinitely valuable.  Would You help us to prize Him?  Forgive us for the pursuit of empty counterfeits that has marked our lives and grant us grace now as we come to the Lord’s Table to meet Him and to bow before Him, to feast on Him and to make Him alone our treasure.  For we ask it in His name, amen.

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